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Defining the Swinging Eighties
Because the people who write the music history books usually weren’t there
“If we recast the 80s as a subcultural timeline, the ‘decade’ actually spanned six years. They began in June 1978 when David Bowie’s world tour hit the UK – rallying dispossessed punks and kindred music-loving nomads who came to recognise they were not alone.
“These Eighties ended in Dec 1984 with what remained for 13 years the biggest-selling single in UK pop-chart history, Do They Know It’s Christmas? This was an unprecedented act of charity through collaboration by 47 members of rival bands calling themselves Band Aid, who had risen on the same post-punk wave. They raised millions for the Ethiopian famine.
“Crucially, Band Aid confirmed a new British pop establishment of musical innovators. And coincidentally, it laid the foundations for Live Aid, the globally mounted fund-raising concert held in July 1985 and watched by 400 million viewers, across 60 countries.”
♫ MOVE FORWARD TO THE DICK BARTON THEME
PLAYED BY THE UKELELE ORCHESTRA
OF GREAT BRITAIN:
About Shapers of the 80s
❏ Except where specifically attributed to others, all text on this website is the work of David Johnson, a journalist based in London, who learnt his trade under the gifted and demanding editor Charles Wintour (yes, indeed, father of Anna) on the world’s most stimulating metropolitan newspaper, the Evening Standard (founded 1827) which had previously been credited with helping shape the Swinging Sixties. In the Seventies the Standard published six editions a day, six days a week, and was circulated throughout greater London, to Britain’s major provincial cities and a dozen international capitals.
As a staffer at the Standard by day, Johnson edited a column on young London called On The Line, named after Eddy Grant’s 1979 hit Living On The Front Line. By night, while freelancing for the edgy new magazines The Face and New Sounds New Styles, his forays into Britain’s gregarious world of youth culture yielded such unrepeatable reportage that it soon made sense to carry a camera and snap for the moment. The results established his monthly review of UK nightlife in those style magazines long before there were enough club-nights to warrant listings in city events guides. Simultaneously our hack was also moonlighting and editing the twice-weekly music pages of a national newspaper which shall remain nameless, but was shrewd enough to dedicate one of those pages to dance music.
Evidently, for about five years, he didn’t get much sleep but did produce the stuff you find online here today, some of which ended up in anthologies such as The Faber Book of Pop, 1995. All of which would, let’s hope, meet with Charles’s liberal-minded expectations. His catchphrase was: “Ferchrissakegetitright!” Do feel free to disagree with this previously untold slice of subcultural history. Johnson couldn’t be everywhere at once.
What’s hot at Shapers of the 80s
➢ By its eighth year, Shapers of the 80s had attracted a total of 1.5 million views since its launch, according to year-ending stats measured by our host, WordPress, at the end of 2017. Over the past five years we had averaged 192,000 views annually. The sudden death of George Michael generated much interest across three posts, chief among them Paul “Scoop” Simper’s personal tribute to his friend. . . Spandau’s long-awaited loss of their singer prompted speculation over his successor with So who can fill Tony Hadley’s big Ballet shoes?. . . New insights into the creator of Ziggy Stardust’s costumes ensured the popularity of our post headed “Burretti movie adds an epic and essential chapter to the Bowie story”.
➢ During 2016, sadly the death of David Bowie in January marked our biggest ever monthly audience of 43,000 visits since the death of Steve Strange in the previous year. If Shapers of the 80s is about any individuals at all, David and Steve are the heroes who shaped that decade like few others.
➢ By 2015, one key feature had emerged as the most widely read of all. “The Making of Club Culture” explains the uniquely British explosion in creative nightlife during the first years of the 80s – much enhanced since my original research was first published as the cover story for The Face No 34.
WHEN NICK KNIGHT IMMORTALISED
THE SHAPERS OF AN ERA
HISTORIAN CALLS SHAPERS OF THE 80S “INVALUABLE”
❏ Shapers of the 80s was declared an “invaluable website” in 2012 by historian Dominic Sandbrook, author of the rich new cultural analysis, Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974–1979. We report how Sandbrook gives generous credit in his book to key influencers on youth culture. His unstuffy combination of high and low life also energised the BBC2 series The Seventies aired in 2012.
❏ In October 2019, Dominic Sandbrook heaped further praise on this website in a “masterful, mammoth new book”, Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982 (published by Allen Lane). In a long chapter on the pop cultural explosion that reverberated to Margaret Thatcher’s election and subsequent break with the postwar Keynesian consensus, Sandbrook cites copiously from this website adding in his footnotes: “See also David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapersofthe80s.com to which I am hugely indebted.”
The Financial Times reviewer noted how the book provided “a full and rich account of the period. Sandbrook is as at ease with the social, cultural and lifestyle changes of the time as he is with the critical political events, drawing shrewd connections between them, observing the different ways in which both Fawlty Towers and To the Manor Born, though television comedies, tell as much about the state of the nation as the BBC’s Play for Today.”
❏ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s, telly don Simon Schama succinctly expresses why we should document the “irreverent freedom” that is a special aspect of life in Britain.
HEAD ABOVE PARAPET MOMENT
❏ One of the bravest things I’ve ever done – apart from disagree with a newspaper editor – was to pose for my portrait. When Eighties uber-Wag Chris Sullivan invited friends to crowd-fund his book Rebel Rebel, the prize offered for the topmost pledge was a Rondo-esque portrait painted in the style of one of his band Blue Rondo’s wittily cubistic 12-inch record sleeves.
I snapped it up (never forget Sullivan switched from fashion onto the fine-art course while at St Martin’s) and here’s the result: Yours Truly in acrylic and crayon on canvas as rendered by Sullivan. Intriguingly, my chance to look like any of those cool guys in Me And Mr Sanchez in 1981 has transmogrified into something else… What this thoughtfully worked portrayal brings to mind are the qualities identified by the critic John Berger when he said: “Art is the provocation for talking about enigma and the search for sense in human life. One can do that by telling a story or writing about a fresco by Giotto or studying how a snail climbs up a wall.”
So, big thanks go to Chris the maestro. Listen to us jawing about his art and all other things 80s at Soho Radio in January 2019 (from 32 minutes in)…
CORRECTIONS AND COPYRIGHT
❏ If you wish to correct anything you think is wrong on this site then please mail to contact [a t] shapersofthe80s.com
All text on this site, except where otherwise attributed
© 1978–2022 Shapersofthe80s. All rights reserved.
If you wish to quote from text here, please attribute it to the source, like this:
[Quoted from Shapersofthe80s.com]
❏ This not-for-profit website respects copyright, and where possible will always try to seek permission and give credit to a photographer’s work. If you see any images here to which you own the rights and wish them to be removed, you have only to ask.
❏ Whenever you recycle any picture for your own use, always credit the photographer. That way you help advertise their talent and maintain their reputation. The internet has made it almost impossible to collect the reproduction fees they are entitled to. In the past many have depended on those fees for their livelihood.
WITHOUT WHOM… ETC
PS: HOW HAVE YOU KILLED THE TIME SINCE THEN?
❏ Some cheeky devils assume that writing about the 80s is all I’ve ever done in life. Others have the nerve to ask how Johnson has killed the time over the 35 years since. The 80s as defined above were like a second adolescence. As a grown-up, I’ve worked for four national newspapers in various exec editing roles and edited more than 70 one-off quality magazines with ad-hoc production teams, usually on top of those day jobs, plus various kinds of media consulting, and running a Creative Writing adult evening course. I’ve never needed much sleep.
❏ iPAD, TABLET & MOBILE USERS PLEASE NOTE — You may see only a tiny selection of items from this wide-ranging website about the 1980s, not chosen by the author. To access fuller background features and site index either click on “Standard view” or visit Shapersofthe80s.com on a desktop computer.